Friday, May 30, 2014

Jeanne d'Arc Burned at the Stake ~ May 30, 1431

Image: Centre Historique des Archives Nationales, Paris:

Saint Joan of Arc or The Maid of Orléans (French: Jeanne d'Arc, ca. 1412– 30 May 1431) is a national heroine of France and a Catholic saint. A peasant girl born in eastern France, she led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years' War, claiming divine guidance, and was indirectly responsible for the coronation of Charles VII. She was captured by the Burgundians, sold to the English, tried by an ecclesiastical court, and burned at the stake when she was nineteen years old. Twenty-four years later, on the initiative of Charles VII, Pope Callixtus III reviewed the decision of the ecclesiastical court, found her innocent, and declared her a martyr. She was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920. She is, along with St. Denis, St. Martin of Tours, St. Louis IX, and St. Theresa of Lisieux, one of the patron saints of France.

Joan asserted that she had visions from God that told her to recover her homeland from English domination late in the Hundred Years' War. The uncrowned King Charles VII sent her to the siege at Orléans as part of a relief mission. She gained prominence when she overcame the dismissive attitude of veteran commanders and lifted the siege in only nine days. Several more swift victories led to Charles VII's coronation at Reims and settled the disputed succession to the throne.

Joan of Arc has remained an important figure in Western culture. From Napoleon to the present, French politicians of all leanings have invoked her memory. Major writers and composers who have created works about her include Shakespeare (Henry VI, Part 1), Voltaire (La Pucelle d'Orléans), Schiller (Die Jungfrau von Orléans ), Verdi (Giovanna d'Arco), Tchaikovsky (Орлеанская дева), Mark Twain (Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc), Jean Anouilh (L'Alouette), Bertolt Brecht (Die heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe), George Bernard Shaw (Saint Joan), and Maxwell Anderson (Joan of Lorraine). Depictions of her continue in film, television, video games, song, and dance.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

John Fitzgeald Kennedy ~~ May 29, 1917 ~~ November 22, 1963

Photo: Cecil Stoughton, White House, July 11, 1963

John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963.

After Kennedy's military service as commander of the Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109 during World War II in the South Pacific, his aspirations turned political. With the encouragement and grooming of his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., Kennedy represented Massachusetts's 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953 as a Democrat, and in the U.S. Senate from 1953 until 1960.

Kennedy defeated then Vice President and Republican candidate Richard Nixon in the 1960 U.S. presidential election, one of the closest in American history. To date, he is the only Catholic president. He was the second-youngest President (after Theodore Roosevelt), and the youngest elected to the office, at the age of 43. Kennedy is also the only president to have won a Pulitzer Prize.Events during his administration include the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Space Race, the African American Civil Rights Movement and early events of the Vietnam War.

Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with the crime but was murdered two days later by Jack Ruby before he could be put on trial. The Warren Commission and the 1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that Oswald was the assassin, with the HSCA allowing for the probability of conspiracy. The event proved to be an important moment in U.S. history because of its impact on the nation and the ensuing political repercussions. Today, Kennedy continues to rank highly in public opinion ratings of former U.S. presidents.

Text &

Premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring ~ May 29, 1913

Nicholas Roerich's set design for the first act set for The Rite of Spring:

The Rite of Spring, commonly referred to by its original French title, Le Sacre du Printemps (Russian: Весна священная, Vesna svyashchennaya) is a ballet with music by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, original choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, and original set design and costumes by archaeologist and painter Nicholas Roerich, all under impresario Serge Diaghilev. The music's innovative complex rhythmic structures, timbres, and use of dissonance have made it a seminal 20th century composition. The scandal of a riot at its 1913 Paris premiere made it one of the most internationally well-known and controversial works in performance history.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

STONEWALL ~ June 28, 1969

The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. They are frequently cited as the first instance in American history when gays and lesbians fought back against a government-sponsored system that persecuted homosexuals, and they have become the defining event that marked the start of the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.

American gays and lesbians in the 1950s and 1960s faced a legal system more anti-homosexual than those of some Warsaw Pact countries. Early homophile groups in the U.S. sought to prove that gay people could be assimilated into society, and they favored non-confrontational education for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. The last years of the 1960s, however, were very contentious, as many social movements were active, including the African American Civil Rights Movement, the Counterculture of the 1960s, and antiwar demonstrations. These influences, along with the liberal environment of Greenwich Village, served as catalysts for the Stonewall riots.

Very few establishments welcomed openly gay people in the 1950s and 1960s. Those that did were often bars, although bar owners and managers were rarely gay. The Stonewall Inn, at the time, was owned by the Mafia. It catered to an assortment of patrons, but it was known to be popular with the most marginalized people in the gay community: transvestites, effeminate young men, hustlers, and homeless youth. Police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the Stonewall Inn, and attracted a crowd that was incited to riot. Tensions between New York City police and gay residents of Greenwich Village erupted into more protests the next evening, and again several nights later. Within weeks, Village residents quickly organized into activist groups to concentrate efforts on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested.

After the Stonewall riots, gays and lesbians in New York City faced gender, class, and generational obstacles to becoming a cohesive community. Within six months, two gay activist organizations were formed in New York, concentrating on confrontational tactics, and three newspapers were established to promote rights for gays and lesbians. Within a few years, gay rights organizations were founded across the U.S. and the world. On June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride marches took place in Los Angeles and New York commemorating the anniversary of the riots. Similar marches were organized in other cities; today Gay Pride events are held annually throughout the world toward the end of June to mark the Stonewall riots.

Photo &

I think I was in California for the first time with my singing group from Yale when Judy Garland died in 1969. Reportedly the mourning at her funeral was the proximate cause or catalyst for the events that led to the Stonewall riots.

I returned to San Francisco with the Spizzwinks(?) again in 1970. But I wasn't aware of the parade at the time. (When I moved to San Francisco in 1973, the parade was fairly low-key and confined to Polk Street as I recall.) Curiously, we Spizzwinks(?) sang for the San Francisco Yale Club at the Playboy Club at the corner of Jackson and Montgomery -- just two blocks from where I've worked since 1992, and originally started in 1983. Today it houses offices and very fine antique stores on the ground floor. What was that Cole Porter line? "Even nice young men who sell antiques... do it!"


The big news from New York two years ago was the passage of the Marriage Equality Act. Thank you Governor Cuomo! But then two DAYS ago were the two remarkable five-four decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court! What changes have occurred in my lifetime! Oh, that Dennis could have seen it. 

EDWARD VIII ~ June 23, 1894 ~ May 28, 1972


Edward VIII (Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David; later The Duke of Windsor; 23 June 1894 – 28 May 1972) was King of the United Kingdom and the British dominions, and Emperor of India from 20 January 1936 until his abdication on 11 December 1936. After his father, George V, he was the second monarch of the House of Windsor, his father having changed the name of the royal house from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1917.

Before his accession to the throne, Edward held successively the titles of Prince Edward of York, Prince Edward of Cornwall and York, Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay, and Prince of Wales. As a young man, he served in World War I, undertook several foreign tours on behalf of his father, and was associated with a succession of older, married women.

Only months into his reign, Edward caused a constitutional crisis by proposing marriage to the American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Although legally Edward could have married Mrs. Simpson and remained king, the prime ministers of the British Empire opposed the marriage, arguing that the people would never accept her as queen. Edward knew that the ministry of British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin would resign if the marriage went ahead, which could have dragged the King into a general election and ruined irreparably his status as a politically neutral constitutional monarch. Rather than give up Mrs. Simpson, Edward chose to abdicate, making him the only monarch of the Commonwealth realms to voluntarily relinquish the throne. With a reign of 325 days, he is one of the shortest-reigning monarchs in British and Commonwealth history, and was never crowned.

After his abdication, he reverted to the style of a son of the Sovereign, The Prince Edward, and was created Duke of Windsor on 8 March 1937. During World War II he was at first stationed with the British Military Mission to France, but after private accusations that he held pro-Nazi sympathies, was moved to The Bahamas as Governor and Commander-in-Chief. After the war, he was never given another official appointment, and spent the remainder of his life in retirement.


One of my peculiar interests is a collection of memorabilia from the Coronation of Edward VIII. It celebrates a non-event. I was amazed at how much stuff there was. But I guess it makes sense. It takes months, if not almost a year of preparation to get ready for a coronation. Originally I had just a ribbon. But then I looked around on eBay and found ceramic & porcelain teacups, teapots, plates, silk handkerchiefs, coins, medallions, candy tins, books, and even a bust. I have dozens of objects.

It drove Dennis to distraction. Why was I devoting any energy to such a weak man? Unlike most Americans, who think it romantic that he “gave up the throne for the woman he loved,” Dennis took the British view that Edward was a traitor. I really think he was disappointed in me for showing any interest at all. (He did, however, approve of the teacup commemorating Wallis' death.) Though I must say, that on our second trip to England in 1988, when Dennis took his beloved Bianchi bike with him, he rode all around Windsor Great Park and managed to find Fort Belvedere, (David’s country place and the site of the abdication broadcast) then rented by an Australian businessman. (It wasn't indicated on any map.) So Dennis must have had a spark of interest himself.

Curious Connections: Aimee du Buc de Rivery, Cousin of the Empress Josephine

In several earlier posts I have listed some of Napoleon's mistakes or miscalculations. Among these were his failure to grant independence to Poland, particularly after his affair with Marie Waleska. That relationship produced a son, Alexandre, claimed by Marie's husband as his own. As an adult Alexandre became the foreign minister to Napoleon III. Napoleon III (generally known as "Louis Napoleon" before he became Emperor) was the son of Louis Bonaparte (brother of Napoleon I), and Hortense de Beauharnais (daughter of Napoleon I's wife Josephine de Beauharnais by her first marriage). So by a curious twist, Napoleon's natural, but illegitimate, son became the servant of Napoleon's eventual heir-- both his nephew through Napoleon's brother Louis and his step-grandson through his step-daughter Hortense.

Then there was Napoleon's brother Joseph, whom he placed on the throne of Spain. All that did was to foster guerilla resistance, which led eventually to the first successes of Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington.

Napoleon's biggest mistake, however, may have been the divorce of his first wife Josephine, Hortense's mother. That may sound preposterous on the face of it, but hear me out. At the moment, I can't locate the book I found a number of years ago at the Salvation Army thrift store, so I'll have to trust my memory.

May 28th, 1812 may have been the apex of Napoleon's power, authority and prestige. On that day he reviewed a military parade in Dresden. Riding in front of him were the various crowned heads, princes, and other minor royalty of Europe, some of whom were his relatives, placed on their thrones by Napoleon himself. It was just before the invasion of Russia, which led to his eventual downfall.

What Napoleon didn't know was that the Turkish Sultan in Constantinople secretly broke his treaty with France and allied himself with the British that very same day. This act would have enormous consequences. The original plan was for the Turks to support and supply the French during the invasion of Russia. Instead, the Turks allied themselves with Napoleon's enemies.

Why did the Sultan switch sides? There's no real documentation; but speculation convinces me. Mahmud II was the Son of Abdülhamid I and Nakşidil Sultan. Although it has not been proved conclusively, it is very likely that Nakşidil was Aimee du Buc de Rivery, first cousin of Josephine Beauharnais Bonaparte.

Below is a long quote from another blog entitled "A Very Fine Romance: A Blog About Romance, Beauty, and the Exotic In All Forms"
Aimee du Buc de Rivery: Cousin of the Empress Josephine & The Ottoman Turkish Connectio
No one will know the actual fate of Aimee du Buc de Rivery who was the empress Josephine's cousin. Nevertheless for almost two hundred years there has been so much speculation that the story of two empresses who were related and ruled simultaneously has captured the imaginations of writers as diverse as Prince Michael of Greece to the African-American fiction writer Barbara Chase-Riboud.
The story of Aimee du Buc de Rivery runs basically that she was a cousin of the empress Josephine, and like her more well-known cousin was born on the island of Martinique. When both were 12 they went to a famous black fortune teller on their island who told Josephine that her second husband would be so powerful and glorious that she would be more prestigious than the queen of France. Aimee was told an even more incredible prophesy. She would be captured by pirates and sold to a powerful ruler who because of her beauty, would make her his mistress and favorite. When she had a son by this ruler this would increase her position. Through her son, she would have great power and influence.

The legend of Aimee goes on to say that when she was returning to Martinique from studying in a convent in France, her ship was hijacked by Barbary pirates. She was captured and given to the Bey of Algiers. In order to garner favor with the Ottoman sultan, this girl of great beauty was sold into the harem in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. There Aimee captured the eye of the sultan and became his wife. She was given the name of Nakshedil, and is said to have taught her husband French, thus opening up the Ottoman Empire to France and ultimately the west. Because of her, other reforms were introduced during her husband's and son's reign.

Aimee proved to be a survivor in the violent, political atmosphere of the harem and Topkapi Palace. Though she converted to Islam, she was always in her a heart a Christian. When she was dying, her son allowed for the first time for a priest to come into the palace to administer the last rites to his mother. So ends the story of the girl whom history and legend says was a cousin of Josephine, born to a wealthy family on Martinique and who died in a palace in Istanbul, the most powerful woman among the Turks.

I first heard about Aimee du Buc de Rivery when I read Barbara Chase-Riboud's novel, Valide: A Novel of the Harem while I was a graduate student. A black Muslim woman, whom I am not sure was orthodox or a member of The Nation of Islam, told me about Aimee and the book. Life is unpredictable, so when I read this novel of Romance, violence, and intrigue, I had no way of knowing that Turkey would become a part of my life in so many ways years later.

Posted by Sincerae (means "Morningstar")

Sultan Mahmud II was very possibly a first-cousin-once-removed from the Empress Josephine. One of the difficulties in proving this is that the Topkapi palace policy did not keep written records of women, only of men. But it is known that Aimee ended up in the harem, and that Mahmud's mother was French.

Napoleon, of course, reluctantly divorced his first wife Josephine, because she was unable to bear him a son and heir.

So Napoleon married Marie Louise, the daughter of Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor (Francis I of Austria) and of his second wife, Maria Theresa of the Two Sicilies. Marie Louise was also a double great-granddaughter of Maria Theresa of Austria, thus a double grandniece of Marie Antoinette, as she was a paternal granddaughter of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor (Maria Theresa's son, Marie Antoinette's brother) and a maternal granddaughter of Marie Caroline of Austria, Queen of Naples and Sicily (Maria Theresa's daughter, Marie Antoinette's sister).


Marie Louise did provide Napoleon with a son and heir, Napoleon II, the "King of Rome," who died as a young man in Vienna. But the very fact that Napoleon divorced Josephine to do so, may have been the deciding factor in Mahmud II's decision to switch sides and not support the French in their invasion of Russia in 1812. It may have been the old story that "Blood is thicker..." or, "You can't do that to my mother's cousin."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

77th Anniversary of the GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE

Photo:SF Chronicle

Dennis and I went to the celebration walk for the 50th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge twenty-six years ago. It was one of the most frightening events in my life. The people in charge had hired a firm in Los Angeles to estimate the potential crowd. Evidently they based their estimates on how many buses and parking spaces were available. They hadn't considered that people would walk. Dennis and I left the house about 2:30 or 3:00 AM, took public transportation for as far as we could, and then walked the last two miles or so. We were near the front of the crowd. It started off as a lot of fun. But instead of staying to the right of traffic, pedestrians covered the entire bridge from both sides. We got to the middle, and there was complete gridlock. For over an hour, we could move only a few feet. It was very claustrophobic.

Photo: SF Chronicle
At the end, I was half expecting some people to jump just to get away from the crowd. The police prevented several hundred thousand more people from joining us on the bridge. Even so, the weight was so heavy, that the bridge leveled, and started to sag. I've since heard that there had been concern that the bridge might collapse. It would have been one of the great catastrophes of the 20th Century! I don't think anybody did make it the whole way across that day. Eventually, the police were able to evacuate the bridge, and we left to get something to eat.
It was the final day of the Decorator Showcase at Melvin Belli's place on Broadway. I suggested going. Dennis said: "Are you crazy? I'm not going to wait in line for anything today!" You'd never know from the colorful posters of the event, what a disaster the Fiftieth Anniversary walk across the Golden Gate Bridge turned out to be... and the catastrophe it almost was!


last year I missed the anniversary because I was in New York City before going to my Yale class reunion, where after the fact I became a member of the Whiffenpoofs of 1972! So to compensate I planned to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. But since I was coming from the Brooklyn side, after having breakfast with a friend, I somehow got on the wrong bridge!! But on Tuesday May 29th, I rented a bike and rode back and forth on the BB.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II ~ May 26, 1896

Portrait by L. Tuxen of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra

My Arrival in San Francisco ~ May 26, 1973

On Saturday afternoon May 26, 1973-- Memorial Day Weekend-- I arrived in San Francisco in my green 1967 VW van completely loaded with books, records, a sofa (primarily to keep all the boxes from sliding around) and my Dad's black and white cocker spaniel, EZ Dandy. The load was so heavy that top speed across flat Nebraska was about 48 MPH. I was completely exhausted after my eight day journey from Pennsylvania-- almost entirely on Interstate Route 80.

I already had a key to 3615 - 23rd Street and moved right in. I had been paying rent since May 1st. My friend Carole Rhineheimer, "Puck," had found the flat before returning East for a short vacation and had given me the key. We lived together for about five months, before she moved to Marin. So for thirty-eight years, I've never had to look for an apartment in San Francisco!

After buying a queen-size mattress and box spring, the next thing I did was audition for the Choir of Men and Boys at Grace Cathedral --where I sang regularly for twenty-two years, and now sub -- before I sang for twelve years with the Schola Cantorum at the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi-- until we were let go four years ago. Now we are an occasional professional concert choir.

(The photo above was from the following year, when I went back to my grandfather's St. Lawrence River Thousand Island summer house, Zavikon, for the last time. The only year I missed --before it was sold-- was 1973. I couldn't justify returning East for a vacation only six weeks after I had moved to California.)

Photo:by Carole Heisey LeFever

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Queen Victoria ~ May 24, 1819 ~ January 22, 1901

Portrait:Winterhalter, Franz Xavier (1806-1873)

Friday, May 23, 2014


When I was in Italy a little over five years ago to revisit some of Dennis’ favorite places and to scatter his ashes under rose bushes in Venezia, Vicenza, Firenze, Roma, and then Istanbul, I made a special point to see the original Donatello statue of Judith and Holofernes (1460) in the Hall of Lilies (Sala dei Gigli) in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. I had already seen the copy on the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (not far from where Savonarola had burned books and ‘degenerate’ art in the “Bonfire of the Vanities,” and then was later hanged and burned himself).

According to Wikipedia, the statue, which depicts the assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes by Judith, is remarkable for being one of the first Renaissance sculptures to be conceived in the round, with its four distinct faces. Quite frankly, I don’t think the sculpture is very attractive, though it is powerful. It was used as a symbol for the Florentine Republic. It had originally been commissioned by Cosimo de’Medici as decoration for the fountain in the garden of the Palazzo Medici-Ricardi. It stood in this palace together with Donatello’s David standing in the courtyard, both depicting tyrant slayers. (David was being restored in the Bargello museum when I was there four years ago.)

My interest in Judith, however, is the base. According to Rudolf Wittkower in his essay on “The Renaissance Baluster and Palladio” in Palladio and English Palladianism (1974), the first Renaissance use of the baluster was Donatello’s bronze base for this statue with symmetrical double balusters at the [three] corners. [my brother-in-law Tom pointed out to me a year ago that the statue is on a tripod pedestal, which I hadn't observed previously.] In addition, the entire bronze statue and base is raised on a single giant marble baluster, signifying the importance of the architectural motif. I mentioned this to my knowledgeable hosts in Firenze, but it was news to them. I’m sure, though, that whoever commissioned the marble baluster pedestal was aware of its significance; and it was used for both the copy outside and the original in the Sala dei Gigli.

Wittkower reported that the balustrade, as an architectural element, did not seem to be known by either the Greeks or the Romans. (So when you see the outdoor swimming pool at Hearst Castle used as a backdrop for Laurence Olivier’s villa in the movie Spartacus, the marble balustrade is clearly an anachronistic foreign element. The set designers seemed to be aware of this and used the Roman predecessor—which looks something like a British Union Jack— whenever they constructed sets from scratch.)

Giuliano da Sangallo was among the first to employ balusters in Renaissance buildings. He even used them in his pen and ink restorations of antique Roman monuments. In any case, within a few decades of Donatello’s statue, the baluster as an element in parapets, railings and staircases became ubiquitous in Renaissance and later Neoclassical architecture. Bramante used the motif in his Tempietto (1502); and his conception –adapted from Sangallo’s— later influenced balustrades of Raphael, Samicheli, Palladio and Scamozzi. Michelangelo was also influenced by Sangallo’s treatment, but then developed his own variation. He seemed to prefer the vase shaped or low center of gravity “dropped baluster” (as shown in the staircase from my workplace).

Wittkower didn’t mention any earlier predecessors of the baluster, but there seem to have been isolated examples of balustrades in several medieval and gothic buildings.

According to Wikipedia again, the earliest examples are those shown in the bas-reliefs representing Assyrian palaces, where they were employed as window balustrades. I was fascinated to notice a connection between an Assyrian source for the element in a statue depicting the beheading of an Assyrian general. Was this purely coincidence? A young architect— I used to know— thought possibly not. Many original sources seem to have disappeared over the centuries. Who knows what traditions and documents Donatello may have had access to that we seem to have lost. Perhaps they were burned a few hundred meters away in Savonarola’s “Bonfire of the Vanities.”


Photo of staircase ballustrade is from my workplace, S.F. Customhouse.

Savonarola Burned at the Stake ~ May 23, 1498

(Please refer to my post "Judith and the Baluster" September 18, 2008.)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

RICHARD WAGNER ~ May 22, 1813 ~ February 13, 1883

HARVEY MILK ~ May 22, 1930 ~ November 27, 1978


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

WHITE NIGHT RIOTS ~ May 21, 1979


(Reposting from November 2008). I spent the day at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco. I was called to jury duty. This may have been the sixth or seventh time I’ve been summoned. I guess after thirty-five years in SF, that’s not excessive. Come to think of it, I don’t recall how many times I’ve been called, but I’ve actually been on six or seven juries over the years. Twice I’ve been jury foreman. And all but one case reached a verdict. With the added factor that federal employees are paid their full salaries while on jury duty, there’s a decent chance I may be selected for this case provided my name is drawn for voir dire. If so, I’ll have to reschedule some Kaiser appointments.

I was impressed with the two slickly produced orientation videos played for us prospective jurors. That was something new from the last time I was at the Hall of Justice.

On the whole, my experience with the jury system is a variation of Winston Churchill’s comment about democracy: that it’s highly inefficient… but better than all the other options.

Sometimes juries reach questionable verdicts. A few weeks ago my boss at work put out various donuts and sweets with coffee. Among these were packages of Hostess Twinkies. I took one, but probably won’t eat it. I took it as a souvenir. I couldn’t help but think of Dan White’s voluntary manslaughter verdict in his murder case for assassinating Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. The defense had claimed that former Supervisor White’s mental capacity had been diminished by a sugar rush – from Hostess Twinkies!! It was called the “Twinkie Defense” in the local press.

Months later on May 21, 1979, I exited the Opera House after going to a comedy show by Peter Schickele, aka P.D.Q. Bach. The scene was surreal. Smoke was everywhere. Sirens were screaming. It seemed like dozens of police cars were on fire. The streets were packed with rowdy, violent demonstrators chased by police. The Dan White verdict had just been announced. Chaos surrounded City Hall. The reaction-riot was called “White Night.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

'Appy Eloiza Dooli'le Day! ~ May 20th

May 20, 2010

Courtesy of Marc Acito

In Act One of My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl learning to speak like a lady, fantasizes about meeting the king. Of course, because it's a musical, she sings:

"One evening the king will say, 'Oh, Liza, old thing - I want all of England your praises to sing. Next week on the twentieth of May, I proclaim Liza Doolittle Day. "

Since I'm not Julie Andrews, I'll spare you the rest, but suffice to say Eliza envisions all of England celebrating her glory. The only ones who recognize Eliza Doolittle Day, however, are music theater geeks like myself. And while an evening of cocktails and show tunes sounds like fun, it's insufficient to mark the occasion because Eliza's message is all too relevant today.

You see, My Fair Lady is based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, and both pieces explore the ramifications of learning how to speak properly at a time when elocution was valued as a symbol of education and upward mobility.

Emphasis on the was.

Listen to Franklin Delano Roosevelt say "the only thing we have to feah is feah itself," and it's almost inconceivable that ordinary Americans trusted someone who sounded like Thurston Howell III. We are now in an age when Sarah Palin speaks to a quarter of the electorate even though she talks like she's translating into Korean and back again. Even the rhetorically gifted President Obama has felt compelled to drop his g's while tryin' to sell health care reform.

Nowadays soundin' folksy has become more important than sounding educated. As Eliza's teacher Henry Higgins says, "Use proper English, you're regarded as a freak." But our country's biggest competitors are learning proper English and, judging from all the Indian call centers, learning it quite well. Our country was built by people striving to move up, not dumbing down. So on this Eliza Doolittle Day perhaps we should all take a moment to think before we speak.

Marc Acito is the author of How I Paid for College and Attack of the Theater People.

First COUNCIL of NICEA ~ 325 C.E.

The First Council of Nicea is believed to have been the first Ecumenical council of the Christian Church. Most significantly, it resulted in the first uniform Christian doctrine, called the Nicene Creed. With the creation of the creed, a precedent was established for subsequent general (ecumenical) councils of Bishops' (Synods) to create statements of belief and canons of doctrinal orthodoxy— the intent being to define unity of beliefs for the whole of Christendom.

Derived from Greek oikoumenikos, "ecumenical" literally means worldwide but generally is assumed to be limited to the Roman Empire, as in Augustus' claim to be ruler of the oikoumene/world; the earliest extant uses of the term for a council are Eusebius' Life of Constantine 3.6 around 338 "σύνοδον οκουμενικν συνεκρότει" (he convoked an Ecumenical council), Athanasius' Ad Afros Epistola Synodica in 369, and the Letter in 382 to Pope Damasus I and the Latin bishops from the First Council of Constantinople.

The purpose of the council was to resolve disagreements arising from within the Church of Alexandria over the nature of Jesus in relationship to the Father; in particular, whether Jesus was the literal son of God or was he a figurative son, like the other "sons of God" in the Bible. St. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius took the first position; the popular presbyter Arius, from whom the term Arian controversy comes, took the second. The council decided against the Arians overwhelmingly (of the estimated 250–318 attendees, all but two voted against Arius).

Another result of the council was an agreement on when to celebrate the Resurrection, the most important feast of the ecclesiastical calendar. The council decided in favour of celebrating the resurrection on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, independently of the Hebrew Calendar. It authorized the Bishop of Alexandria (presumably using the Alexandrian calendar) to announce annually the exact date to his fellow bishops.

Historically significant as the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom, the Council was the first occasion for the development of technical Christology. Through it a precedent was set for subsequent general councils to adopt creeds and canons. This council is generally considered the beginning of the period of the First seven Ecumenical Councils in the History of Christianity.

Text: courtesy of

(Please see my posts on October 28, 2008 and November 1, 2008 for my perspective on the Council of Nicaea).

Monday, May 19, 2014

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis ~ July 28, 1929 ~ May 19, 1994

Official White House portrait: Shaw, Mark,

I'm so grateful that Jackie didn't live to see the death of JFK, Jr. That would have been simply unbearable.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)